Breaking News: John Brack’s ‘The Bar’ headed for the NGV – for reals this time.

19 03 2009



In exciting news for Melbournian art-lovers, it seems that the glowering cumulonimbus cloud that is the economic crisis may have a sterling silver lining.

We have been suffering a case of severely bruised pride since 2006, when cultural crusader David Walsh pipped NGV director Gerard Vaughan at the post, acquiring John Brack’s seminal painting, ‘The Bar‘ for the record price of $3,120,000 at auction.

In ‘The Bar‘, Brack’s reinterpreted Edouard Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère‘ and constructed a typically bleak picture of 1950s Australian culture. It is a companion piece to one of the NGV’s best-loved and most iconic Australian paintings, ‘Collins Street, 5 p.m.‘ Needless to say, when ‘The Bar‘ came onto the market, the NGV wanted it. Badly. But so did Walsh who, I have always suspected, saw the acquisition of the painting as a mighty fine way of rustling up publicity for his monumental private gallery, MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). It is hard to see how the painting fits into Walsh’s premise for his collection, which is organised around the twin themes of sex and death. That said, the drinkers at the bar do look somewhat cadaverous.

Notwithstanding Walsh’s reasons for acquiring the painting, to add insult to injury since the sale the painting has been taunting us; hanging at the NGV, side-by-side with its sister piece. Walsh graciously loaned the painting to the gallery while he finished building his cultural ark across Bass Strait. Its display in Australia’s most prominent public gallery can’t have hurt the painting’s lustre (or its provenance). I imagine it would have saved Walsh a bit in insurance costs over the last couple of years, too. But, I’m clearly just a bit bitter and cynical. Walsh is using his vast wealth to construct a major collection of international and Australian art that will be open to the public – what is there not to love in that? It’s just that he TOOK OUR PAINTING FROM US!

I digress. The good news is that we’re getting to keep it… really, truly. Walsh has sold/is selling ‘The Bar‘ to the NGV! (**golf clap**). The implication from the report I just heard on ABC radio was that it was a decision predicated by financial factors. Given the reportedly legendary scale of Walsh’s online gambling operation  this sounds unlikely. 

Who cares? ‘The Bar‘ is ours. And, Gerard Vaughan? The first round’s on you.

Image:  ‘Australian Art Sales Digest’


An Art Blockbuster Exhibition for the Recession: Much Ado About Nothing at Paris’ Pompidou Centre Exhibition

12 03 2009

Vides at Pompidou

Planning a trip to Paris in the near future? Well, you’re in luck. For the not inconsiderable sum of 12 Euro, you can visit Centre Pompidou’s latest exhibition, Vides [Voids]: A Retrospective. You can even buy an advance ticket online! And that ticket will give you privileged entry to… nine empty rooms! With floors! And walls!

Could this be THE blockbuster exhibition for the global recession? All those nasty expenses that render large travelling exhibitions prohibitively expensive – insurance, freight, installation – gone in one fell swoop. Ah, the look of relief on the face of the Registrar as this exhibition rolls into the loading dock. 

The gift shop will have had a hell of a time coming up with marketing concepts for this one, though. Although the colour separation costs for printing the postcards, posters and catalogues will be modest by usual standards, I’d imagine.

Minimalism? I can’t get enough of it.

Image via The Guardian

Sign of the times.

10 03 2009

Open Bar Leads to Coat-Check Fiasco at MoMA Kippenberger Retrospective 

Driven to seek shelter from the cold and solace from their woes, recently impoverished art aficionados rushed the open bar and coat-check room at the opening of MoMA’s recent Martin Kippenberger show.

Free booze and outer-wear ready for the taking? In the midst of an economic winter? What did they expect?

Image: New York Magazine

Armory no defence for flagging art market.

10 03 2009

In years gone by, the New York Armory (sic. I know, I know. It’s American. It kills me when I have to leave the ‘u’ out) Show has been the focus of feverish and often irrational activity on the part of collectors clamouring to scoop up works of art by the bestest, brightest, hottest, newest contemporary art überstars.

Allow me to teleport you back to the golden years – a fascinating article published in the New York Magazine by Marc Spiegler in 2006 captures the hype and herd behaviour that characterised the Armory Show back when collectors had seemingly limitless grab-bags of discretionary cash to fling around.

But now? Not so much. The 2009 Armory Show industry’s response to the bear market: what appears to be a shameless grab for publicity. Topless women, $5 ‘limited edition’ T-shirts, a life-size sculpture purportedly modelled entirely out of compacted cocaine, and paintings by Marilyn Manson and Lucy Liu. Oh… and taxidermy art by Carolyn Salas and Adam Parker Smith.

Seems the contemporary art market is well and truly stuffed.


Faking it.

7 03 2009

Money and taste. Ne’er the two shall meet. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration. Nonetheless.

One of the most paradoxical areas of growth in the recently demised art market kaboom was the emergence of  ‘art villages’ in China. Populated by young artists seeking a way to apply their skills to a pursuit that might actually earn them a buck or two, these commercial enclaves churned out thousands of made-to-measure copies. Want a Velasquez to hang above the mantel? No probs. A Vermeer to adorn your powder room? Easy.

$US20 or so could get you anything. 70% of the demand came from foreign markets. Not surprisingly, the demand for perfect copies of Jackson Pollock dribble paintings has dried up since we in the West began to focus on little things like paying the mortgage. And buying food.

And as for the young artists, wooed into a cycle of dependence on a market fuelled by our veneration of the ‘Masterpiece’? They’re now struggling to survive.

I don’t care what anyone says. The law of supply and demand sucks. Bigtime.

Image from:

High-end victims of the economic crisis: Chris Burden’s newest installation Ga-goes-ians down the toilet

5 03 2009

What is the world coming to when the failing economy halts the staging of the blingiest, goldiest art event since Damien Hirst said to himself: “human cranium, platinum and diamonds – a polygamous marriage made in heaven!”?

When not even market impresario extraordinaire, Larry Gagosian, can leverage a mere ton of gold for famed shooty performance artist, Chris Burden… it’s wrong, people. All wrong. 


Chris Burden

image: Gagosian Gallery,, accessed: 5 March 2009